A Karthiknathan S. Type Project Reimagines Iconic Book Covers Using Tamil Lettering

Karthiknathan’s recent work for the DakshinaChitra NXT Langfest 2024 showcases his versatility and commitment to thoughtful design.
Karthiknathan’s recent work for the DakshinaChitra NXT Langfest 2024 showcases his versatility and commitment to thoughtful design. Karthiknathan Sowbaghyanathan

Karthiknathan Sowbaghyanathan has a name that stands out as being as unique as his design philosophy. He is inspired by the essence of a designer as defined by Bruno Munari: a planner with an aesthetic sense. His approach to design is a meticulous process, deeply influenced by the message being communicated and the intended audience. From the visual style to the chosen medium, every aspect of his creative output is carefully curated to ensure clarity and resonance.

Karthiknathan’s work is a continuous exploration of various forms of media; driven by a desire to understand how different forms can be harnessed to communicate effectively. He often gravitates towards illustration, with his personal projects frequently referencing pop culture and regional Tamil characteristics and culture. This blend of traditional and contemporary influences creates a unique and engaging visual language.

In his personal life, Karthiknathan is an avid explorer of internet culture as well as the latest trends in web series, movies, and graphic novels. This eclectic mix of interests informs his design work, bringing a rich diversity of perspectives to his creative process.

Karthiknathan’s recent work for the DakshinaChitra NXT Langfest 2024 involved him redesigning some rather iconic book covers using distinctly Tamil type motifs. The project showcased his versatility and commitment to thoughtful design and each book cover he created for the event is a testament to his ability.

For 'A Long Walk to Freedom', Karthiknathan drew inspiration from Thembu bead art to honor Nelson Mandela’s heritage. The Thembu are a tribe of the Xhosa people and their colorful beadwork provided a fitting tribute to Mandela’s struggle against apartheid. The design, initially laid out with bead art in mind, was later rendered using 3D software to give it a realistic, photographic quality.

In designing the cover for 'Of Gifted Voice', Karthiknathan focused on capturing the essence of M.S. Subbulakshmi. He chose MS Blue as the dominant color, extending this choice to the design itself to evoke the look of a saree. The title was designed to resemble saree stitching, and Subbulakshmi’s iconic silhouette with her tambura was transformed into a stitch pattern on the saree; blending tradition with a modern design sensibility.

Karthiknathan’s exposure to K. B. Sundarambal, primarily through her portrayal of Avvaiyar in Tamil films, inspired the cover for her biography. He chose Tamil Blackletter for the typography; a nod to the typesetting style of Tamil religious movies. An archway, reminiscent of the Thiruvilayadal movie poster, frames the type, which was custom constructed and set against an orange background to represent Avvaiyar's attire, aimed to evoke both the subject’s essence and nostalgic memories.

For Vallinayagam Olaganathan Chidambaram's (V.O.C) 'Suya Sarithai', Karthiknathan aimed for a modern appeal to reflect V.O.C's radical thoughts. He designed an Art Deco-inspired typeface, making it look as though it was stenciled on the hull of a ship. The use of block colors further enhances the cover’s impact, creating a bold and contemporary look.

By blending aesthetics with purpose, he continues to create work that is not only visually striking but also deeply meaningful. Always on the lookout for new and interesting projects, Karthiknathan is eager to collaborate and push the boundaries of design.